• graduated!

    This week my older son completes his senior year…more or less. I mean, he’s in grade twelve according to his Sunday school placement at our church, and according to our “intent to homeschool” form that I fill out at the end of every summer, but for homeschoolers, the lines between grade levels tend to get a little blurry. 

    Last spring when he decided to enroll in classes at the local community college, we learned that enrolling as a homeschool student required all sorts of paperwork — letters of recommendation and such — but then another homeschool mom told me to just declare him graduated. “It’s much easier,” she said.

    “I can do that?”

    “Once he turns 16, sure.”

    I had no idea.

    So we told the college he was graduated, whatever that meant, and he took the two placement tests — English and Math, and both for free — and that was it. We had a college student on our hands! So then the kid was all like, I just graduated, yay! Can I have a party? and I had to backpedal right quick: Just because we declared you graduated doesn’t mean you actually are… But yeah, you kind of are… But, um, not really?

    It was rather anticlimactic, poor kid.

    But then my parents gave him a graduation card with a hundred dollar bill which made it a little bit official (sort of)…

    …and then he took off for Peru and spent five weeks being all sorts of independent, which probably cemented the fact that he was growing up better than a party would’ve done.

    He’s spent the past year taking classes part-time, studying for a nursing degree, and now we’re finally wrapping up the graduation stuff, for reals this time. Just a couple weeks back, there was his last choir performance for which he wrote the welcome, and then performed it with another chorister —

    …I second that, and before we blastoff
    take out your phone, please, make sure that it’s off
    The sound of a ring, or a ping, or a ding
    Is not part of the repertoire that we sing. 

    And not just your phone, but any noise making machine!
    Your pagers and dialers, anything with a screen.
    Turn it off, shut it down, do what you must,
    Just keep it silent, in you we can trust… 

     — and next Sunday our church will host a “tea” for the high school graduates. Each student gets to fill a table with anything and everything that’s important to them (photos, sports gear, art projects) and then everyone mills around, looking at the displays and writing notes of encouragement in little notebooks. Unfortunately, we’ll miss our son’s tea since it’s schedule for the Sunday after we leave, but he’s staying behind for an extra week (to take finals and have some downtime), so at least he’ll get to be there.

    This same time, years previous: an ordinary break, full disclosure, back to normal, coffee crumb cake, the quotidian (4.28.14), the quotidian (4.29.13), better brownies, baked beans, creamed asparagus on toast.

  • that fuzzy space

    With one week until departure, I’m beginning to enter that fuzzy space otherwise known as Transition. I feel off-kilter, ditzy, and at odd ends. My mind is cluttered. I pace and make lists and then, when I should be working, I crash on the sofa with Netflix and end up going to bed way too late. There is much to do, and yet, weirdly, I’m bored. I can’t settle into anything. It’s like being revved up on caffeine while in a coma.

    I was like this before we went to Guatemala, though that upheaval was much worse than this one. This time around the kids are bigger and we’re only packing for one climate (hot). Also, it simplifies things that Puerto Rico is just another part of the US: we can still get Amazon, there are Costcos(!), and I just learned that we can forward our mail to our new address. Maybe we’ll never come back?

    Speaking of that new address: A lovely rental house is awaiting us!

    Judging from the video that our supervisor so thoughtfully sent us, it looks like the place — plenty of extra space for hosting guests and holding meetings with the weekly volunteers — will meet our needs perfectly. I am so ready to move in, set up shop, and start living.

    *** 

    One of my goals for when the little cousins came was to eat up all the bits and bobs of food floating around the house. I shopped my shelves and made menus and then conscientiously worked my way through each day.

    Some bread crusts and a couple cups of leftover quiche filling?
    An egg bake for lunch.

    A bag of dry white beans and a quart of frozen, ancient turkey?
    White chicken chili.

    A frozen container of red beans and overripe corn?
    Again, chili.

    Chickpea and barley flours?
    Buttermilk pancakes.

    Two half-boxes of macaroni?
    Mac and cheese, duh.

    Unfortunately, I neglected to take into account how little small children will actually eat, so I didn’t plow through as much food as I’d hoped. But still, their presence did force me to be intentional, and I hardly spent any money, so there’s that.

    *** 

    We’re gradually farming out the animals.

    in the back of the truck, heading out 

    The goats are gone, on loan to a neighbor. The chickens are being banded and dispersed to different homes (to be collected upon our return). The dogs will go to my parents. Two of the three cats we’re giving away; Obie will continue to haunt the barn — my parents will set out food for him.

    My daughter is giving Velvet away to her farrier who has three young, very excited children. It’s a smart move on her part — Velvet is getting old, and my daughter wants to save for a warmblood — but still, it’s a little sad, saying goodbye to her first horse, so the other evening when she asked me to go up to the farm to take some last photos of her and Velvet under the budding fruit trees, of course I said yes.

    ***

    Our work phones and hotspot arrived from MDS headquarters.

    The children are green with jealousy.

    *** 

    What will we read while we’re in Puerto Rico? There are libraries, but best I can tell they’re mostly academic. Probably in Spanish, too. 

    When we went to Guatemala, I took a whole stack of pre-screened books for our family read-aloud, but we don’t need read alouds now (that’s more a winter-time thing, plus, our evenings will be considerably busier this time around). Still, I’d love to have several good books on hand for each person to read and then share amongst ourselves.

    my collection thus far 

    But along with gerneralized fun reading (my aunt has loaned me her copy of Educated which I know it’s going to be fabulous), I’m also looking for a variety of other in the following areas:

    *Several, high-quality young adult books that most of the kids would enjoy
    *Material about Puerto Rico. I just purchased this book, and we already have the travel guide.
    *Books (both fiction and nonfiction) set in Puerto Rico. Blogs, too.
    *Books on cross-cultural awareness, disaster management, etc.

    So tell me: what should I (we) be reading? If nothing else, just share what books you’re into these days. That’ll be enough to get my wheels turning, I’m sure.
  • the quotidian (4.23.18)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace




    A good meat thermometer makes all the difference.

    Attempting to copy my mother’s prune cake recipe: hers was better.
    In an effort to once again experience the flavors of Guatemalan street food: from a food truck.

    Raiding my candy stash, the stinkers.

    Atop the grape arbor, with lemonade.
    On a knitting kick.

    Little worker.

    Cousin Week: Day Six.

    Dunging out: destined for the thrift store.

    Parting shots: she’s giving her away.

    This same time, years previous: life can turn on a dime, let’s pretend this isn’t happening, out of character, Sally Fallon’s pancakes, ailments, out and about, the quotidian (4.23.12), rhubarb crunch, me and you, and the radishes.

  • the best fix

    This week, in a move that has, I’m afraid, made pretty much everyone second-guess our sanity, I invited my cousin’s four little kids, ages three to ten, to come stay with us for a week right before we take off for Puerto Rico.


    Actually, the kids were supposed to come last week, but then when MDS asked us to attend the leadership training, we had to push the cousin visit back a week. I knew we’d be fine, though: a week of training, a week of kids, a week of packing, no problem.

    Besides, everyone knows that the best fix for feelings of overwhelmed-ness is to just add a whole lot more crazy, right?

    Seriously, though. We are having so much fun! The children are absolutely amazing — curious, cheerful, independent. There have been zero discipline issues and no signs of homesickness. It’s been a dream, truly.

    From part of an (edited) email I sent their mother this morning, their fourth day here:

    There is a Lego station in our room (can’t walk in there), and the kids are on a paper airplane kick. On Wednesday night we took all four of them to the final dress for Jonathan’s play. The night before was Taco Tuesday at church. Also, we went to the library, and yesterday we made a trip to Costco. They spend hours on the trampoline. They are great eaters and they sleep like champs. The little one has cried a handful of times, but it’s always very brief and usually has to do with not finding the right shirt or having someone buckle her in when she wanted to do it herself. She is so cuddly, in and out of my lap all the time.


    aaaaand she’s out! 

    The number of children in the house hovers right around ten, though it has, on occasion, touched twelve. My brother’s kids have popped over a couple times, plus my son’s friend is in and out. This morning the neighbor kid wandered in and I walked past him without even noticing. When I did see him — “Oh hey, you’re here! — I told him to leave his shoes by the door and then walked off.

    The first night the cousins were here, I pointed out to my husband that this would be our family if we’d continued to have a child every two years, can you imagine?? When I told my kids — this could be us — they were all suitably impressed.

    a hat trick

    My kids have had to up their game. They’ve been washing boatloads of dishes, providing around-the-clock entertainment, doing lots of tidying up, serving snacks (about which my older daughter was gleeful: It’s been years since we’ve had snacks!), and playing games.

    My younger daughter has relocated to the guest room to sleep with the girls, and the boys have set up camp on my sons’ bedroom floor (when my younger son’s friend comes to spend the night, there are five boys in there, oof). I thought this week of cousins might cure my younger daughter of her persistant wish for foster siblings, but when I checked in with her this morning, she assured me that she still wants foster kids, “Because we’d get a baby, Mom, not actual children.” And so I give up. Because I am not about to borrow a pack of babies to make a point.

    This afternoon, the children are over at my parents’ house. Tonight there will be pizza for supper, and then we’ll have a movie and popcorn, and maybe bedtime stories. And then, once everyone is in bed, my husband and I will cozy up on the couch with Netflix.

    If I can keep my eyes open, that is.

    This same time, years previous: what it’s like to write full time: an experiment, the quotidian (4.20.15), the quotidian (4.21.14), loose ends, therapy, chocolate ice cream, bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

  • it takes a village

    I’ve mentioned before that our church has a mentoring program for children grade six through grade twelve. This year, all four of our children are in the program — our oldest in twelfth and our youngest in sixth — so to celebrate, we invited all four of the mentors, and their spouses, over for dinner.

    What with all the schedules to be considered, finding a date was a minor miracle. First we settled on a date in May, but then when we decided to go to Puerto Rico, we had to do calendar contortionism all over again. Everyone hung in there, patiently batting around date possibilities, until finally we landed on one (one!) free evening that suited everyone, whew.

    The meal was simple — soup, bread, salad, cake — and all fourteen of us smooshed around our dining room table (afraid that, extended so far, the table might cave, my husband hammered in a reinforcement at the last minute). We didn’t have enough soup bowls, two of the kids were in the middle of a silent war, and we ran out of regular-sized water glasses, but oh well. This was us, chipped plates, bad attitudes, and all.

    Before the prayer song, I made a little welcome speech and promptly teared up. These four couples have been such an integral part of our life, even before they became mentors for our children. For example, here’s just a smattering of the ways they (in one configuration or another) have been involved in our lives:

    Counseling us on whether or not to get married.
    Attending our wedding.
    Being present at some of the children’s births.
    Supporting and advocating for us while we volunteered overseas.
    Visiting us in Nicaragua and Guatemala, sometimes more than once.
    Participating in the same small group.
    Helping us find our house.
    Traveling to see us when my husband was diagnosed with cancer.
    Being feet-on-the-ground when we had parenting troubles.
    Helping us move.

    They have washed our windows and brought us food and written references. They have listened to us and counseled us and encouraged us. And now, on top of all that, they are taking the time and energy to mentor our children.

    For these dear people, we are profoundly grateful.

    This same time, years previous: in the night air, with an audience, joining the club, nutmeg coffee cake, picking us up, chocolate mayonnaise cake, chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs.

  • while we were gone

    So last week my husband and I took off for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for several days of MDS leadership training.

    The entire time was spent in meetings (I stepped outside once, for about one minute), so it wasn’t exciting in the “Ooo, I’m in another country” sense, but we did hear lots of French in the airports and I got to have coffee and donuts (my favorite: the honey-dipped) at Tim Hortons , so there was that.

    The trip home was brutal, thanks to a midnight-until-5:30 a.m. layover in Toronto. Sleeping (ha, yeah right) under a plastic tree on a dirty carpet in a drafty airport was so NOT glamorous.

    And to add insult to injury, the two older men we were traveling with hardly even batted an eye at the sleep deprivation and travel conditions. They were like a pair of energizer bunnies. My husband and I could hardly keep up.

    But the best part? Coming home. (Which begs the question: if I love coming home so much, then why in the world are we leaving for four months?!)

    While we were gone, the older two kids stayed at home and the younger two rotated between my parents’ place, a friend’s house, and home. Throughout the week, our older daughter would send us photos: of the table loaded with pans of rising sweet rolls, of her dinner plate of steak, cabbage slaw, and purple cabbage, of the kitchen counters piled high with dirty dishes (and the caption: “Cooking is so hard!”)

    She was the one who picked us up in town. On the drive home, she filled us in on their week. They’d eaten supper at my parents’ place, and another supper at my brother’s house. My daughter’s mentor took her out for lunch once. One of her friends was visiting from out of state and the three girls had a sleepover.

    Our youngest lost a tooth, she said, so she’d bought him a Tooth Fairy present (though she hadn’t yet given it to him, since he promptly lost the lost tooth). She’d scheduled four riding lessons for the next week. And, she proudly told us that she’d cleaned the entire house. “When I’m in charge,” she said, “I keep my house clean,” and I laughed at her use of first-person possessive, and wondered: Have I made myself redundant?

    When we pulled into the driveway, my husband sucked in his breath, “What in the world?!” and my daughter laughed and said, “Yeah!” but even though I was looking all over the place, trying to figure out what the big deal was, I couldn’t see a thing. My daughter kept talking — “eight tons … gravel … bobcat” — and I finally saw it: they’d redone the driveway!

    Fed up with listening to my husband gripe about the mudpit that was our driveway, our older son had finally taken matters into his own hands. He, along with the help of his sister, borrowed a bobcat, graded the driveway, ordered the gravel, and paid for it in cash (their own — though we refunded them the majority of the money later because hello, they fixed the driveway).

    The house was spotless (except for the upstairs bathroom that my older son never cleaned like he was supposed to…and that is still quietly, dirtily, waiting for him), the freezer stocked with sweet rolls, a big tub of leftover broccoli soup in the fridge, laundry on the line, vases of flowers on the table.

    ‘Twas glorious, utterly glorious.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.17.17), the quotidian (4.18.16), wrangling sheep, cheesy popcorn, take two: Omri, nutmeg coffee cake, and then he shot me through the heart, ground pork and white bean chili, asparagus walnut salad.

  • gado gado

    Last week, Amanda posted a photo of their supper spread — gado gado it was called: a variety of steamed vegetables over rice and topped with a peanut sauce — and it looked so utterly fantastic that that very afternoon I swung by the grocery store for the sole purpose of acquiring the proper ingredients: purple cabbage, cucumbers, cauliflower, and cilantro.

    The meal was simple to make — pop rice in the cooker, make a sauce, and prep and steam the veggies — our supper plates that night were spectacularly colorful, the meal so wonderfully light. After all the winter fare, it was just the thing.

    And the rest of the family liked it well enough, but…

    “It’d be better with chicken,” my older son said.

    Grilled chicken,” my husband said.

    So when we ate it again for lunch the next day, this time it came with a piece of grilled chicken on top.

    And they were right — it was better.

    Gado Gado
    Adapted from Extending The Table.

    Gado gado is basically just a salad, but with the veggies steamed instead of raw. I prepped all the vegetables at once and then steamed them, one vegetable after the other, only taking about two minutes for each batch — when done, they should be still a bit crunchy. Once steamed, the veggies can sit at room temp for a couple hours, or store in the fridge until ready to use.

    I though the peanut sauce a little flat, flavor-wise, and have since done a little research and determined that one tablespoon of fish sauce may do the the trick.

    steamed vegetables: 
    Cauliflower, broken into florets
    Carrots, sliced into matchsticks
    Purple cabbage, chopped fine
    Zucchini, halved lengthwise and then sliced into moons
    Other options: green beans, green cabbage, broccoli, sweet potato, etc.

    raw vegetables: 
    Radishes, thinly sliced
    Cucumbers, chopped
    Cilantro, rough chop
    Bean sprouts

    other components:
    Brown rice
    Boiled eggs
    Grilled chicken, optional (and probably not authentic)
    Peanuts, chopped, for garnish
    Peanut sauce (recipe follows)

    Peanut Sauce
    3 tablespoons peanut oil
    ½ onion, chopped fine
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
    1 heaping cup peanut butter
    ½ teaspoon (or more!) red pepper flakes
    2 bay leaves
    3½ cups coconut milk or water (or a combination of the two)
    1 lemon (or lime), zest and juice
    1 teaspoon each soy sauce and brown sugar
    Plenty of salt (start with 1 teaspoon)

    Saute the onion and garlic in the peanut oil until tender and translucent. Add the fresh ginger and cook for another minute. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.

    To serve:
    Put rice on the place and then pile on the vegetables. Add the boiled egg and chicken, top with lots of peanut sauce (treat it like a gravy), and sprinkle with nuts.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.11.16), right nowwhen popcorn won’t pop, Mr. Tiny, an evening walk, mint wedding cake.

  • missing Alice

    Wednesday evening, Alice, my younger daughter’s dog, was hit and killed.

    The man who called to alert us said he found her body in the road about a mile from our house. He pulled her to the side of the road. She was still warm, he said.

    The children had just gone to bed. We told them the news. My husband and older son retrieved the body. Alice looked just like herself, her body unmarred. Ruffled by the blustery night air, her soft fur smelled fresh and clean.

    My husband and son dug a deep hole by the back deck. My daughter removed her collar and dog tag. We wrapped her in an old pink blanket. The girls shoveled in the dirt.

    “We can plant a special bush,” I said.

    “Or a red fern,” my older daughter said.

    *** 

    On my younger daughter’s birthday, less than two months ago, she wanted to recreate the last year’s birthday, the moment when we’d surprised her with Alice. She changed into the same skirt she’d been wearing that day, and my husband delivered Alice — this time big and squirmy — into her lap while I took pictures.

    They turned out just as blurry as the first time.

    *** 

    My husband often teased me about my affection for Alice — You’ve totally fallen for that dog, Jennifer — and I’d roll my eyes, but it was true. I’ve always liked our animals — been fond of them even — but I’ve never liked any of them as much as Alice. She was so alert, so curious and playful. She was expressive, and smart. And she loved to run.

    All our dogs have roamed on occasion — slipping through a left-open gate or a hole in the fence — so it took as a little while to catch on that this was different. Alice wasn’t just sniffing around the neighboring fields, she was running, perhaps for miles. Charlotte would run with her, but being so little, she struggled to keep up and came back footsore.

    So we buckled down. We borrowed an electric shock collar. We kept the dogs in the kennel, or tied. When they were loose in the yard, we’d watch them. But even so, they still managed to get away every now and then.

    That’s what happened last week. She made off when no one was looking.

    Four hours later, the call.

    *** 

    None of us slept well that night. The next day I canceled everything and stayed home with the children. I gave the girls regular chores. I made granola bars. My daughter put daffodils on the grave. We cried a lot.

    I suggested to the girls that we go run some errands, to get out of the house. My older daughter didn’t have the energy to join us, so just my younger daughter and I went. We stopped at Target to return a shirt we’d gotten her for her birthday and to pick out something else, but she only tried on one shirt before quitting. Her heart wasn’t in it.

    That evening my father stopped by with a bouquet of flowers for my daughter.

    My sister-in-law texted that they’d be bringing us dessert that evening, and after supper my brother stopped in with a pie — strawberry rhubarb, made by my ten-year-old niece — along with a bouquet of wildflowers and a packet of homemade cards from the cousins.

    The shock is wearing off now, but the grief still comes, unbidden, in waves. Even though we joke and laugh and fight, there’s an undercurrent of sadness. Eventually it won’t hurt so much, I tell the kids. It’s okay to cry. And so we do.

    We miss Alice.

    This same time, years previous: beginner’s bread, scatteredness, the quotidian (4.6.15), the quotidian (4.7.14), answers, yellow cake, cardamom orange buns, asparagus with lemon and butter.

  • caribbean milk cake

    A couple months ago while poking around the internet for Puerto Rican recipes (travel is inspiring!), I came across a recipe for a simple sweetened condensed milk cake. I made it once, just as the recipe said, dusting the top with powdered sugar and serving it with a lemon blueberry sauce (the recipe hadn’t said to do that, though) and whipped cream.

    Since then, there have been a slew of variations:
    *I’ve quadrupled the lime zest, and swapped out the lime juice for rum.
    *I’ve poked holes all over the top of the baked cake and then doused it with a hot butter-and-rum sauce, spiked with lime.
    *I’ve made it in layers, splitting each of the layers in half and filling with lemon curd. Then, between the two layers, a strawberry cream cheese filling (I think? There have been so many cakes, I’m having trouble remembering.) The sides and top I iced with a butter cream. That version went to our homeless shelter and was, I heard later, a smash hit, so…
    *I made it again, this time icing it with some leftover cream cheese frosting, I think.
    *Most recently, I’ve soaked the entire thing with the hot rum-lime sauce and then split it in half and filled with lemon curd and (leftover, curdled — what in the world?) creamy fluff frosting.

    In other words, it’s high time I share the recipe!

    Here, I’m giving the recipe to you straight. As written, it’s a deliciously simple yellow cake, less fluffy than some — I think it’s the condensed milk that gives it more heft — and with subtle hints of lime and nutmeg. From there, you can take it in any direction.

    Caribbean Milk Cake
    Adapted from Imma’s blog, Immaculate Bites.

    The absence of salt is not a typo.

    2½ sticks butter
    ¾ cup sugar
    1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
    5 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 tablespoon rum or lime juice
    2 cups flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1-2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
    4 tablespoons lime zest (about four limes)

    Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the condensed milk and beat well. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and rum. Add the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and zest and stir until combined.

    Pour the batter into a greased ten-inch springform pan and bake at 325 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar and serving with whipped cream and berries.

    Variations:
    *For a layer cake, divide batter between three, greased and lined, 8-inch pans.
    *Split layers and fill with lemon or lime curd.
    *Pour a hot butter-rum sauce over the baked cake…

    Butter Rum Sauce
    1 stick butter
    1 cup sugar
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ½ cup rum
    ½ teaspoon vanilla
    ¼ cup fresh lime juice, optional

    Combine the butter, sugar, salt, and rum in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently boil the sauce for at least five minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla (and/or the lime juice).

    Let the cake cool for ten minutes and then, using some sort of pokey thing, like the slender end of a chopstick, jab holes all over the cake, making sure to reach the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the sauce slowly over the cake, using a spoon or spatula to evenly distribute the sauce, if needed. Cool completely.

    (Once when I was just dousing an 8-inch cake, I first flipped the cake out of the pan, poured some sauce into the bottom of the pan, and then returned the cake to the pan before poking the holes, effectively saturating the cake with flavor from both top and bottom.)

    This same time, years previous: a trick for cooking pasta, the quotidian (4.4.16), cup cheese, chickpeas with spinach, spinach cheese crepes.

  • the quotidian (4.2.18)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace



    Taking the recipe’s call for “chocolate chunks” very, very seriously.

    In the incremental spreading of the wings, yet another flutter. 
    Giving the lungs an all-clear and saving us a (possible) trip to the doctor.
    He flew it so high it disappeared, but it was fun while it lasted.

    Egg hunt.
    Beef short ribs, cooked over the fire.

    Left behind.
    April First.

    Do not forget.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.3.17), red raspberry pie, sun days, working lunches, sore eye, the quotidian (4.2.12), three stories, now, oven fries.